Basel, Council of

Basel, Council of
   Pope Eugenius IV reluctantly convened this general council of the church because of pressure from European rulers and many of the lower clergy to obey the decree Frequens of the Council of Constance which mandated the calling of frequent general councils. The council opened in 1431 and was dominated by supporters of Conciliarism, the belief that a general council, not the pope, is the supreme authority in the church. The most extreme conciliarists intended to develop councils into a regular representative assembly that would compel the popes to share the absolute power they had claimed since the 13th century. Councils, they believed, would also enact tough reform legislation that would overcome the foot-dragging of the popes, curial officials, and bishops who stood to lose by reform of the church.
   An immediate and pressing problem for the council was relations with the Hussite movement of Bohemia. Some at the council wanted to follow a conciliatory policy of negotiation and compromise on the issues that separated the Hussites from other Christians; others wanted to use the council to condemn the Bohemian heresies and to impose that decision by armed force. Another urgent problem arose from the negotiations of Pope Eugenius IV with the leaders of the Greek Orthodox church. He wanted to move the council to Italy and to bring the Orthodox leaders, including the Byzantine emperor and the patriarch of Constantinople, there in order to reunify the whole Christian church. The pope's efforts to move the council to Italy set off bitter conflict. Eventually the pope called a rival council (the Council of Ferrara-Florence).
   At Basel, the struggle between those who wanted to preserve papal absolutism and those who wanted to transform the church into something like a parliamentary monarchy was bitter. The pope's short-lived success in negotiating reunion with the Greeks, as well as the fear of many bishops that the university theologians and canon lawyers in the council were trying to make the church a democracy, divided the council. Eventually, moderate conciliarists such as Nicholas of Cusa, Aeneas Sylvius Piccolomini (the future Pope Pius II), and the pope's own legate, Cardinal Giuliano Cesarini, withdrew. As the moderates departed, the radicals gained the upper hand. Because Pope Eugenius defied them, they declared him deposed from office and proceeded to elect a new pope, who took the name Felix V. Thus the council itself seemed guilty of reviving the schism. All of the major European rulers rejected this action. After the death of Eugenius in 1447 and the election of Nicholas V as the next pope, Felix abdicated; and in 1449 the remaining members of the Council of Basel voted to endorse the election of Nicholas and then dissolved their assembly. This disastrous end of the council greatly weakened the whole Conciliar movement.

Historical Dictionary of Renaissance. . 2004.

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